Sunday, September 19, 2004

It's red ribbon day for AIDS walk

'Look at all the people who care about us'

By Dan Klepal
Enquirer staff writer

The post-Sept. 11 world has been tough on AIDS victims and their advocates.

The terror attacks, a down economy and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have all put a damper on fund-raising and dimmed the spotlight on the effort to find a cure or compassion for those suffering worldwide from the deadly disease, including the estimated 5,000 people in Greater Cincinnati living with HIV, the AIDS precursor.

But a crisp, clear morning in busy downtown Cincinnati Saturday helped shed a little light - and a lot of cash - on the cause.

An estimated 1,000 people participated in the 15th annual Red Ribbon Walk for AIDS along the Cincinnati and Covington riverfronts. The event is the main fun-raiser every year for the AIDS Volunteers of Cincinnati, accounting for about 10 percent of that organization's $2 million annual budget. The bigger turnout this year was a relief to executive director Vickie Brooks, who has had to trim about $150,000 from her budget the past few years.

"AIDS has fallen in the public's urgency, and that makes it more difficult for organizations like us but, more importantly, the people living day-to-day with AIDS," she said.

The organization helps about 1,200 people in the region with HIV. Another 25,000 are touched by its education and prevention programs, Brooks said.

About 200 volunteers helped make the event a success - people like 17-year-olds Ashley Kohl, of Finneytown, and Christy Stevens, of Fort Thomas. The girls had red pompoms and cheered on the walkers as they passed. They called themselves "marshals," but admitted they were really more like traffic cops.

"We just tell people where to go," Ashley said. "And cheer them on," Christy added.

The day was overwhelming for some of the walkers, like 44-year-old Scott from Bridgetown, who suffers from HIV and asked that his last name not be printed. "Look at all the people who care about us," he said.

Brooks said her organization picked the date for this year's walk last November, and had no idea the event would be on such a big weekend.

"Our best hope is that people who may have been going to the (P&G Classic) football game - if they didn't come down to be with us - at least saw us walking and got a little awareness," Brooks said.



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